Creating downtown murals highlighted Brooklyn Doby’s talents and her new profession

Doby was one of the artists chosen to turn State Street’s sea of plywood into murals that made both artistic and social statements.
Brooklyn Doby in front of art

Photo By Sharon Vanorny

Brooklyn Doby was saddened and enraged by the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but the young Black artist didn’t initially know the extent of damage done to State Street merchants during the May 30-31 riots until after the fact. That didn’t soften her resolve to protest the initial injustice.

“I wanted to be part of the Black Lives Matter movement, but I couldn’t physically attend the protests,” says the Madison native, who also models under the name Brooklyn Denae. “It was getting to me emotionally. When I heard about the State Street murals, I saw it as a positive way to get my voice heard and emotions seen.”

Doby was one of the artists chosen to turn State Street’s sea of plywood into murals that made both artistic and social statements. With the help of cousin Synovia Knox and Edgewood College classmate Ciara Nash, Doby painted the boards covering the broken windows of Campus Ink, a State Street tattoo parlor, a bright orange. On one side three faceless Black silhouettes were accompanied by “Say Their Names” rhetoric, and on the other half was a partial global sphere supporting the sentiment, “once there’s justice, we’ll rebuild something beautiful.”

The mural connected Doby to the social movement, and its message proved therapeutic to a young artist struggling with ways to face current issues. As a proud holder of a new art therapy degree from Edgewood College, Doby understands just how therapeutic the arts can be in times of crisis.

“Everyone is getting stir-crazy due to the pandemic, and it helped me to paint,” says Doby. “The art allowed me to better manage my emotions, and it’s always been a way to spread love and healing and understand more about yourself.”

As with most art therapy treatments, Doby’s initial mural and a subsequent similar work done, also with Nash’s help for Short Stack Eatery, helped Doby further explore her emotions. “Despite the trauma Black people have been through, we will continue to rise,” she offers as an explanation for the second mural’s message — a sunburst filled with the legend “they tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”

The impact was not lost on the newly minted art therapist, especially when Molly Tomony, her Edgewood art therapy instructor, stopped by and helped her finish the Short Stack mural. “She’s not a person of color, so her participation was therapeutic in itself,” Doby says.

The new therapist, hamstrung by the pandemic like every other job seeker, is not yet sure where her degree will take her. But it’s become abundantly clear, based on personal experience, that she’s made the right career choice.

“Art is a safe way to get people to open up and explore their emotions,” Doby says. “My goal is to have a safe place where Black women can practice art and feel beautiful and empowered.

“The best thing about art is that both the product and the process can be shared,” she adds. “That’s true about both art and art therapy.”

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